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Paris, Je T'aime

by Gabrielle Barber

This summer I traveled to Paris to intern at The American Library in Paris, situated in a little building in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I arranged to stay in a student dorm on the outer edge of this great snail-shaped metropolis and plunged myself into a world of baguettes, long walks, cemeteries, wine and a lot of culture shock 'n' awe, spending two full months strolling through streets older than anything in the United States, eating a lot of chocolate and gaping in envious glee at the amazing shoes of the French. Daily I would get up at seven and commute with thousands of other nine-to-fivers (though the French take an hour for lunch and often go home at a reasonable time for supper – no burning of the midnight oil for these family-oriented and gastronomically superior office workers).

I took the metro from Cite Universitaire to Notre Dame, where, I soon figured out, one leg of my Metro trip was under construction and I needed to transfer to a bus for the remainder of my trip to work. So I would emerge from the underground tunnels onto the beautiful streets surrounding the Ile-de-France, in the middle of the Seine where the Notre Dame Cathedral is situated. Here, reader, was my bus stop; on the banks of this great and storied river, a stone's throw from the towering church. Lucky for me, there was also a Starbucks near the stop – to those who have never been to France, they're not keen on takeaway coffee. I, harried American that I am, require at least 16 ounces of black coffee to warm my hands each morning, and no, I do not have time to sit in a cafe every morning, sipping pinky-up from a teensy demitasse cup and watching the city drift by, perfectly dressed and meticulously groomed. I learned on a previous trip that they call it an Americano for this reason (or so I believe) – so, I was the singular person on the bus every day gripping a steaming grande cup. Old habits die hard.

At the library I was tasked with sorting through a large collection of old letters, which was quite interesting and gave me the opportunity to view a great deal of old documents (some signed by such historical figures as one Richard M. Nixon – you may have read about him?) and log them in a database. Tres bien!

Lunchtimes I would happily devour une sandwich with many luscious French mayonnaises and meats among the tourists and joggers and groups of students who populated the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Paris is beautiful in the summer; many citydwellers leave for vacation, and the weather was usually a delightful mix of slightly blustery (with a few Midwest-style sudden rainstorms) to pleasant and warm. I walked home three miles every day, lugging my laptop, listening to This American Life (ironically) on my iPod and wandering through neighborhoods. I found favorite routes and favorite bakeries and supermarches and places for sitting and people-watching. Let it be known that Parisians are known for their style and taste and demeanor for a reason – it's all true! Women in six-inch boots would speed past me, lowly student in tennis shoes and jeans, on mopeds – in skirts. And makeup and hair and perfectly done nails. I resolved to French-ify myself and cultivate the same; this lasted about a day when I returned to Seattle via JFK and I was once again plunged into a world of super-sized Cokes, Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and people treating public transportation like it was their own bedroom. Note to Americans: Seriously? Take a cue from our friendly European allies and keep the sweatpants relegated to your couch. Though, I'll admit, as soon as I was back on U.S. soil (or, concrete, as it were) I found myself longing for a Target trip and a big ol' hamburger. All in all: a great experience. I highly recommend.

Y'all can read (view?) more about my trip on my little photoblog: . Vive le France!

December 14, 2009
Vol. XIII Issue 4

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